What Do They Eat in Antarctica?

Antarctica is a barren place. It’s not like you can run down to the local McDonald's for a quick burger if you get hungry. Plus, the cold conditions and extreme physical activity required to survive means that you have to ingest a lot more calories than you would sitting at home. In fact, the average person in Antarctica can burn around 4,200 calories per day! With all that work, you’re not going to survive on snow cones alone. So, what do they eat in Antarctica?

Early Explorers

Snowy mountains with barren landscape in front
Credit: Wayne Morris/ Shutterstock

The first Antarctic expeditions took place in the early 20th century. Ernest Shackleton was one of the earliest explorers to take on the icy landscape. For his “Nimrod” expedition (that’s the name of the boat), Shackleton needed enough food to supply his 15-man crew for up to two years. Of course, refrigerators weren’t on the ship, but they were heading to Antarctica — it’s not like they needed them.

For the voyage, they took 1,600 pounds of York ham, 1,260 pounds of sardines, 1,470 pounds of tinned bacon, 408 pounds of ox tongue, and 384 pounds of sheep tongue. Salty meats were preferred because they could be preserved more easily. With the vast nothingness that is Antarctica, the men needed something to keep them occupied as well, so they brought along 25 cases of whiskey, six cases of brandy, six cases of Champagne (in case they made a neat discovery), and three cases of port.

Hunting and Fishing

Group of wild penguins standing on rock in icy Antarctic landscape
Credit: Vadim Nefedoff/ Shutterstock

Early explorers like Shackleton got to Antarctica when there were no rules in place to protect the environment. They were allowed to hunt and fish to help support themselves. Seals, penguins, and fish were plentiful, and they used the blubber to add some extra calories to their diets.

Today, the Antarctic Treaty prevents anyone visiting Antarctica to fish or hunt. This is to preserve the unique environment. Luckily, modern advances allow for easier importing and storage of food, so hunting and fishing for survival are no longer necessary.

Modern Meals

Modern research outpost in Antarctica with storage facilities and radio towers
Credit: MJD Graphics/ Shutterstock

Food today is just as important as it was for the early explorers. Antarctica is still very cold and unforgiving. All the food has to be shipped in, and since there are no permanent residents of Antarctica, visiting researchers live on bases. The bases have modern kitchens and chefs, and most of the food comes from the home country of the base, so the workers can enjoy recipes that they’re used to back home. Some even do theme nights to keep mealtime interesting.

Fruits and vegetables are rare since they’re harder to store. Some bases have hydroponic systems that can grow a small number of fresh vegetables and herbs, but many go months without having any fruits or vegetables at all. It makes them quite the delicacy when they do arrive.

Sledging

Traveling sledge in Antarctica with ropes and snowy landscape
Credit: I. Noyan Yilmaz/ Shutterstock

Because it’s not as simple as getting in the car and driving with the heat on, traveling anywhere in Antarctica is called sledging, and it’s one of the hardest and most energy-consuming tasks in Antarctica. Sometimes trips can take days, so it’s important that they pack properly to make sure that they can sustain themselves during the intense physical work.

While meals in the bases are prepared by chefs, meals in the field are less enticing. Much of the food is dehydrated, so it’s lighter to carry and is high in fat to provide energy. For simple day trips, many Antarctic researchers just bring chocolate bars. They might not be the healthiest thing to live on, but they provide lots of energy and, most importantly, they can be eaten frozen without much effort.

Antarctic Recipes

If you’re tired of making the same old recipes every night, introduce your family to some delicious and nutritious Antarctic recipes! Here are a few recipes that one researcher said best represents his time spent in Antarctica:

  • Freshly baked bread – Since there’s no access to other fresh food, freshly baked bread is a favorite of Antarctic visitors. Variety comes in the form of different kinds of breads like croissants or brioche.
  • Sledging biscuit – This is a hard biscuit full of energy, built to remain edible and stay fresh even in the harshest conditions — especially delicious when there’s absolutely nothing else to eat.
  • Pemmican or meat-bar – The exact recipe varies, but it’s a bar made of dried meat and fat. It’s made to stay fresh for long periods of time and provide lots of energy. If you really want to make something special while sledging over the ice, mix your meat-bar with a sledging biscuit and water to make hoosh.
  • Fresh vegetables – Since they’re so scarce, simple boiled or steamed vegetables are a delicacy in Antarctica. There are few foods that get visitors as excited as a standard boiled carrot or potato.

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